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Insights

On 10 August 2021, the Personal Injury Commission handed down its decision to award $834,200, weekly compensation and potentially medical expenses in the vicinity of $11 million (USD) to the estate of a deceased employee who contracted COVID-19 during the course of his employment.

This case is the first known workers compensation dispute relating to COVID-19 to be determined by a tribunal in Australia. One of the main issues was establishing that COVID-19 was an injury which arose out of or during the course of employment.

Mr Georges Sara, a dental entrepreneur, died on 21 November 2020 due to respiratory distress because of complications from COVID-19. The deceased had set up companies including G & S Sara Pty Ltd, an Australian based company, and another company in the United States. The deceased travelled to New York in July 2020 for work.

The Commission reviewed medical evidence, including when the deceased’s symptoms first occurred, and that the deceased did not always wear a mask. Considering this evidence, the Commission determined that the deceased had contracted COVID-19 during the course of his employment – between when he boarded his flight in Sydney and arrived at his hotel in New York. Following this, it accepted that the contraction of COVID-19 and death was a “personal injury” within the meaning of Act.

This decision emphasises the significant risks and financial costs to employers of COVID-19 caught during the course of employment. In a world where employers are already struggling with the legalities of mandating the COVID-19 vaccines in the workforce, this decision might only make finding the right balance even more crucial.